Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Jesus Legend - Book Review

Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted me to read The Jesus Legend, and I'm not even certain I am glad I did.  Ok, that is a lie.  I am thrilled I read this book.  It has equipped me in an area of research that I am fairly weak in. 

TJL is not necessarily an apologetic arguing for the historicity of the resurrection or something like that.  Rather, it is a refutation of the Jesus-legend movement that is still prevelant today answering and rebutting their many claims and arguments against the historical reliability of the synoptic gospels.  More specifically, it was a book on methodological issues in regards to inquiry into quest for the the historical Jesus.  More aptly, this book is in all reality a treatise on how not to quest!

One of the things that stuck out to me in this book was the depth and breadth of research that it engaged.  Without getting too specific, issues of memory, orality, and a wide host of other issues were well documented and thoroughly treated from a vast host of other inter-related disciplines. 

I also appreciated the authors' emphasis on seeing the gospels as stemming from an orally dominate culture as well as probably being a result of oral performance (explains many of the differences, dare I say contradictions, in the gospels).  It made the idea of redaction criticism seem a bit unnecessary in light of this.  However, the authors do see a need to harmonize in some way or shape to recreate the historical event.  I don't necessarily disagree with this, but I am more interested in the text when doing theology.  But alas, this book was a sketch on historicity. 

Eddy and Boyd pretty much ripped apart form criticism in this book as well (sorry Bultmann), spending 2 chapters debunking and defuncting their views.  At times this section was slow and tedious, but it paid its dividends in the end.  They also set up the book very nicely with the introductory chapter arguing for an open historical-critical method.  I found this section to be quite engaging and well argued.

Conversely, one of the chapters answering the claim that Paul was not aware (or didn't care) of the Jesus tradition and thus created Christianity was, in my opinion, not well argued.  This is not to say that they were wrong, only that I do not think it was their strongest chapter.  Aside from that and a non-existent closing or summary (it ends rather abruptly), I predict this book will be a standard text book in seminary.  Heaven only knows why it was in my high-school library, but I'm not complaining. It gave me a chance to read it!

I would caution certain people about reading this book because (1) it is… advanced is not the right word… but you know what I mean.  It is not a simplified or dumbed down version of the debate.  It was scholarly.  It assumed a prior knowledge (or at least soon to be acquired knowledge) in the field of NT research and the historical Jesus debate.  (2) Though most of what is said is helpful, those with a fundamentalist view of scripture along with a strict adherence to inerrancy will have a problem with some of the book's ideas about how the gospels work as a genre and historical testimony, especially when those testimonial witnesses seems to conflict with one another (something we actually want in eye-witness testimony to avoid the appearance of forgery).  Other than that, I recommend this book fully for anyone wanting to enter the fray of questing (are we on the 3rd???).  It is a well written and thorough treatment defeating the arguments posed by critics and arguing that the synoptic gospels truly are historically reliable, or at least the burden of proof is on the critic to make the case that they are not.

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